Parked illegally at a trailhead? Prepare to get towed

  • The entrance to the Purgatory Falls trailhead in Lyndeborough was taped off Thursday, April 30, 2020. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The entrance to the Purgatory Falls trailhead in Lyndeborough was taped off Thursday. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/5/2020 11:39:53 AM

With warming weather and the oncoming tourist season, demand for state parks and hiking and swimming areas is already high, and expected to increase, as caretakers try to balance social distancing concerns with allowing people to access their favorite summer spots.

State parks, including Miller State Park in Peterborough and Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, have already taken steps to try to limit the amount of people who are hiking in the area, to protect those social distancing mandates, and will be continuing to adhere to the newly released guidelines provided by Governor Chris Sununu on Friday, Brent Wucher, public information officer for New Hampshire State Parks said Monday.

Miller State Park, in Peterborough, for example, is allowing visitors who make an online reservation before arriving at the park, no later than 9 a.m. on the day of their planned visit. Visitors who do not make a reservation are turned away.

This weekend, the park sold 125 reserved passes each day, plus had an additional 270 walk-in visitors. 

Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey is also using their online day use reservation system, and limiting parking during the weekends. Again,  reservations must be made prior to 9 a.m. on the day of the visit.

This weekend, reserved spots, of which there are 463, were full both days, plus an additional 20 walk-in visitors.

Wucher said both parks are popular areas, and those reserve passes are selling out quickly during the weekends.

Full reopening protocols for state parks and beaches

Along with other venues such as retail stores and restaurants, the governor’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force has put together guidelines for the state’s division of parks and recreation, which allows visitors to still use the public spaces, though in a limited way.

The proposal would allow the use of inland beaches, though capacity for beaches must be determined to prevent overcrowding. Gathering areas such as picnic tables must be spread out, and while people may walk, jog or swim at the beach, they cannot sunbath or gather in groups, at least in the first phase of re-opening. In the second phase, beaches can allow restricted sitting on the beach, either in identity specific locations or in reserved spots.

Town beaches and scenic spots

Local Select Boards are making their own decisions to try to discourage gatherings at popular water features, including Contoocook Beach in Jaffrey, and Purgatory Falls in Lyndeborough.

During its board meeting this week, the Lyndeborough Select Board voted to close access to Purgatory Falls from the Lyndeborough side, with cooperation from the private landowner. They are also seeking to make permanent parking changes to help ease the glut of cars from visitors, which police say is causing a road hazard.

As of this week, the dirt parking lot to the falls will be closed off, and those found on the Lyndeborough portion of the property can be charged with criminal trespassing.

Lyndeborough Police Chief Rainsford Deware said the falls have always been a popular hiking destination, but this spring appears to be even busier as people seek out things to do that will allow social distancing measures.

The Select Board has also put out “no parking” signs on both sides of the road at the Purgatory Falls entrance, and in the future, will only allow parking on one side of the road.

The ban on Purgatory Falls hikes is to stay in place until restrictions on other New Hampshire parks are lifted, according to the Select Board. However, many parks are still allowing visitors in some capacity.

In Wilton, as with the last two years, police are continuing to crack down on people parking along the roadway to access Garwin Falls, a popular hiking trail and water feature, which is privately owned but open to the public. The town does not have the authority to shut down access to the falls officially, but have in the last few years banned parking along the stretch of road to either side of the falls entrance, leaving only a few parking spots available in front of the gate. The fine for parking on the road is $100, and it is also a tow zone.

Over the weekend, Wilton police announced that they had ticketed and towed a slew of cars parked illegally at the trailhead and would continue to do so.

This week, the Jaffrey Select Board also discussed whether or not to open its two town-owned beachfront properties, particularly the popular Contoocook Lake beach.

Typically, as summer starts, the road in the immediate area of the beach is closed, and the sand extended onto the roadway to expand the beach.

This year, the board decided, there will be no staffed lifeguards, and the beach will not be extended, but they will allow residents to still use the beach and parking lot to swim at their own risk.

The board said they couldn’t support staffing the beach this year. Town Manager Jon Frederick said it would put life guarding staff, who are often young people, in an “unfavorable” position.

“Staffing it would be a concern, to me,” Frederick said during the Jaffrey Select Board’s board meeting, by teleconference on Monday.

The Select Board discussed several options, including closing the beach entirely to visitors, but suggested that would likely just drive people to other spots, causing over-crowding in other areas.

Selectman Jack Belletete pointed out that people will flock to the water in summer no matter what, and the more choices they have, the less opportunity for over-crowding.

Other towns are also beginning to discuss how they should handle their own town beaches. Currently, in the town of Hancock, the Select Board has begun those discussions but not made a formal decision, according to Town Administrator Jonathan Coyne.

“We’re playing things by ear, month by month,” Coyne said. Coyne said currently, the board has not shut down the beach to residents, and haven’t had any issues reported there. The board does not typically staff the beach with lifeguards until July, and has not made a decision on whether the beach will be staffed this year. Coyne said the board has kept options open for recreation activities, including accepting summer camp registrations, though it has not accepted any fees, to allow parents to reserve their spots, but not committing to holding the camp just yet.

“It will all be a topic for discussion,” Coyne said.

Antrim Department of Recreation Director Celeste Lunetta said Antrim is still in the process of deciding how to move forward with the operation of the town beach on Gregg Lake, and are closely following the recommendations of the governor, the Center for Disease Control, and lifeguard associations, and will have a more definite plan in place by mid-May. She said that while public safety is the priority, she hopes to be able to provide access to residents.

“We are committed to providing safe facilities for our residents, and we believe that our municipal parks, when used properly and safely, are critical to support physical and mental well being during this public health crises,” Lunetta said.

Similarly, a plan for Peterborough’s public beach on Cunningham Pond is in the works, and the town will be announcing how they intend to move forward by Memorial Day, according to Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.




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